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Originally published July 15, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Page modified July 15, 2011 at 11:44 PM

'Soccer crazy' Seattle feeling World Cup fever

The last thing Ryan Riley sees before she closes her eyes at night is the face of a soccer player.

Seattle Times business reporters

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The last thing Ryan Riley sees before she closes her eyes at night is the face of a soccer player.

The 14-year-old hung a poster of Christie Rampone, the U.S. women's national team captain, above her bed in Issaquah, a reminder of her dream to one day be a defender on the professional soccer team.

This is the eighth year Riley has attended Cliff McCrath's Northwest Soccer Camp, the same camp where Michelle Akers spent seven years training before her career launched and propelled her to a 1999 World Cup championship.

Riley and soccer fans across the country are watching the U.S. team's exhilarating run through the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. That interest has become a groundswell in Seattle entering Sunday's championship game against Japan. American goalkeeper Hope Solo, like Akers 12 years before, is inspiring a new generation of female players in the city where Solo played college soccer.

For proof, look no further than the soccer fields across the Puget Sound region.

While practicing Wednesday at her camp in Kenmore, Riley heard the screams and chants from nearby cabins: "USA! USA! USA!"

She knew immediately what it meant — the team she admires so much had made it to the finals.

"I love watching their games," Riley said. "The players are role models for me."

Inspiring Seattle

Izzy Eiffert, a fiery 12-year-old, is introduced as "Hope Solo" by Riley and other athletes at the Northwest Soccer Camp. Eiffert is training to be just like Solo, a Richland native she calls "an amazing goalkeeper."

Eiffert said she's been watching and learning from Solo's games for two or three years.

"If you visualize yourself doing it and work just as hard, you can do it," Eiffert said. "I think I can do it."

Since playing for the University of Washington, Solo has become one of the top female goalkeepers in the world.

Lesle Gallimore, the UW women's soccer coach, has been in Germany since June 29 supporting Solo. She isn't surprised about the hype in "soccer crazy" Seattle.

"Washington has always been a great soccer state," Gallimore said. "We've always drawn big crowds."

Sounders FC has shattered Major League Soccer (MLS) attendance records since its inaugural season in 2009. That's unlikely to change. A new generation of soccer fans is on its way.

Chris Henderson, a former local soccer star who is now technical director for Sounders FC, said opportunities for kids to play in clubs has grown in recent years.

Since 2006, the number of registered soccer players between the ages of 5 and 19 has increased by about 6,000, according to Washington Youth Soccer. During the 2011 season, more than 128,000 players were registered — ranking the state fourth in the country.

"This is such a pivotal time in soccer to have role models; to see that one of the girls starting on the national team came from Washington state," said Elizabeth Flannery, spokeswoman for Washington Youth Soccer.

Add the fire of this year's U.S. run through the World Cup, and it's no wonder interest is heating up.

The Americans played in one of the most dramatic games in World Cup history last week against one of the tournament favorites, Brazil, winning in a dramatic shootout. On Wednesday, the team's 3-1 victory over France propelled them into the final.

Next up, Japan on Sunday. Riley and Eiffert, back home after their camp ended, can't wait to root for their heroes. "When I watch them play, I feel excited and realize why I love soccer," Riley said.

Christine Harvey: 206-464-3263 or charvey@seattletimes.com

Melissa Powell: 206-464-8220 or mpowell@seattletimes.com




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